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Israel’s Energy Discovery: Game-Changer?

An interview with Globes writer Amiram Barkat on Israel's massive gas discoveries.

by
Jonathan Spyer

Bio

October 26, 2011 - 12:00 am
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Is there a realistic possibility that this could lead to conflict between Israel and Turkey? Or has Turkey, as a NATO member, been warned against escalating the situation?

The strengthening ties between Israel and Cyprus underpinned by mutual interests in the export of natural gas could make the possibility of regional conflict involving Turkey a realistic one, though not in the near future. Israel is aware of this and an internal debate has been going on regarding Cyprus.

Looking from Nicosia, the choices seem simpler. Recent developments in the area have clearly weakened Cyprus’s geopolitical position vis-à-vis Turkey. Greece, Cyprus’ patron, is practically bankrupt. Egypt and Libya, traditional allies within the Arab world, are both undergoing a revolutionary process.

Against this backdrop Cypriot government officials openly invited the Israeli military to play an active role defending Cypriot interests. In private talks Cypriot officials are supportive of letting the Israeli Air Force use Cypriot bases.

What effect is this situation having on Israel’s strategic situation? Can we expect a rapid improvement of relations between Israel and Cyprus?

The idea of an Israeli-Cypriot pact seemed inconceivable not many years ago. Relations between Israel and Cyprus had never been warm. During the Cold War, Cyprus together with its traditional political patron Greece had been under strong Soviet influence, counter-balancing Turkey’s strong ties with NATO and the United States. Until recent years, Israel regarded Cyprus as pro-Palestinian, while from a Cypriot point of view Israel was above all Turkey’s strategic ally. Cypriots, especially from the powerful radical left, drew similarities between Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and Turkey’s harsh policies toward the Kurds and the Armenians.

In recent years, as Israeli-Turkish relations cooled, tensions between Israel and Cyprus subsided. This rapprochement was significantly boosted by the recent developments in the oil and gas sector.

Where do you expect to see this situation heading in the period ahead? 

Further discoveries of natural gas, and perhaps even oil reservoirs, near Israel and Cyprus could have far-reaching geopolitical implications, including potential instability. History teaches that the discovery of strategic assets in a disputed territory at a time of regional instability and shifting balance of power is a highly explosive formula. The flip side is that with wise handling and a productive trust-building international effort, these tensions could be defused and the immense revenues could be very helpful for the area’s development.

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Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict (Continuum, 2011).
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